State Water Board Adopts Industrial Storm Water General Permit: Prepare!

Water Quality Law  

April 2014

On April 1, 2014, California’s State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt the updated Statewide NPDES General Permit for Storm Water Discharges from Industrial Activities, covering some 20,000 facilities in California. The effective date of the new permit is July 1, 2015, but permittees, including newly covered “no exposure” facilities, should take a number of steps well before that time.  At the April 1 hearing, the Water Board made only one significant change to their staffs’ proposal: as advocated by Downey Brand and testifying trade associations, the Water Board removed from the order a controversial reference to discharges to groundwater with direct hydrological connection to surface waters, which many felt suggested the permit would be needed even if a site used retention and percolation to keep stormwater entirely on site.

The new permit differs markedly from the existing 17-year old version of the permit, both in increasing public access to facility compliance information, and specifying mandatory BMPs and more extensive requirements in response to more frequent monitoring.  Full copies of stormwater pollution prevent plans for each facility must be electronically filed, and monitoring results will be promptly documented in the Water Board’s “SMARTS” database.

Though industry stakeholder groups succeeded in obtaining numerous, fundamental improvements through the succession of drafts of this permit, it still will require major changes and ground-up work on compliance practices at each facility.  Permittees should plan ahead not only in updating administration of permit compliance, but in reviewing whether their discharges may exceed newly included action levels that will require greater understanding of background as well as facility sources of metals and other monitored constituents.

The Industrial Stormwater General Permit includes new “exceedance response action” (ERA) requirements for facilities whose stormwater sampling results exceed triggers based on Numeric Action Levels (NALs). Exceeding the NALs is not in itself a permit violation, similarly to the USEPA's Multisector General Permit which uses similar levels in what EPA calls "benchmark monitoring." However, the State Water Board has gone further than EPA in having NAL exceedances trigger a rigorous evaluation and site improvement process documented in a series of technical reports, unless a site can demonstrate, and certify annually, that the exceedance was caused by separate non-industrial sources, run on, or background conditions.

Under a separate “corrective action” provision, additional best management practices must be adopted, if necessary to avoid causing or contributing to instream (receiving water) conditions exceeding water quality standards.  While receiving water monitoring is not required, dischargers to watersheds associated with California’s Section 303(d) List of Impaired and Threatened Waters must monitor for extra pollutants appearing on the 303(d) list. Instream receiving water impacts are also critical in follow-up proceedings the Water Board plans, which will add requirements to implement Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for those pollutants listed in an exhibit to the permit.

Before the effective date, the Water Board plans to roll out mandatory training programs for “qualified industrial stormwater practitioners” (QISPs), who must have a close connection to the facility but need not have professional credentials.  To accommodate concerns that the cost of maintaining QISPs is excessive for small facilities with low risk discharges, the permit generally requires QISPs only be used after monitoring trigger levels are exceeded. A QISP must also certify certain conditions are satisfied before a “new discharger,” as defined, can begin discharging to an impaired water body.

Although early permit drafts proposed to eliminate the option of monitoring groups, the current draft restored a modified group option called “compliance groups.” Compliance groups are designed to ensure each facility responds to its own monitoring results and site conditions, while allowing a group leader to coordinate planning and compliance steps and cutting members’ required sampling from four to two events per year.

Documents relating to this proceeding can be obtained at